Further thoughts on the UA faculty poll and percentages

Lots and lots of numbers
Lots and lots of numbers

Those of you who pay attention to numbers – and I’m certain you all do – may be wondering why I reported yesterday’s University of Arizona faculty poll results in a different manner than what you’ll read in today’s Arizona Daily Star, or even over at UA Defender.

The Star reported mostly in percentages, which I have never liked, and not just because figuring them out makes my head hurt. I just think percentages can be used to make things sound worse – or better – than they actually are. In addition, both the Star and UA Defender combined numerical responses in some way to arrive at their figures, whereas I focused only on the extremes – the votes in “full confidence” and “no confidence” ranges because that middle zone – 2, 3 and 4 – is a sea of gray that could say anything from “Well, today it seems like the administration is doing an OK job,” to “I don’t know. I hate to commit one way or the other.”

UA Defender explained their contention that the poll shows 80 percent with no confidence in President Robert N. Shelton and 86 percent with no confidence in Provost Meredith Hay this way:

The UA Defender did a tally of the poll numbers that were made public today. Here’s how:
On the questions assessing “confidence” or “no confidence” where 1 = “no support” and 5 = “full support,” the range 1-3 defines the range going from “no support to neutral.” Everything shy of 3.0, the midpoint, is negative – the “unhappy range.” Or “no confidence,” if you prefer. (More here.)

The Star’s reporter added up the votes in the 1 and 2 range on the scale of 1 to 5 where 1 equaled no confidence and 5 equaled total confidence to come up with her percentages of about 60 percent having little or no confidence in Shelton/Hay leadership and 40 percent having some of full confidence in answer to the come-to-Jesus question of how much confidence a voter had in the ability of central administration “to lead us through the tough challenges we face now and in the foreseeable future?”

So, that’s the explanation of my thinking on yesterday’s post — but here’s today’s question: Why did so few faculty vote? Because, to me, the only percentage that really matters in yesterday’s poll is 31 percent – the percentage of eligible faculty that actually took the time (and put up with the admitted poll problems) to say whether or not they think Shelton and/or Hay are doing a good job. Does that mean that two-thirds of the faculty think Shelton/Hay are just fine? Or, that two-thirds of the faculty are apathetic? If so, are they apathetic because they’ve come to believe – after faculty forums and rah-rah administrative e-mails and the whole White Paper process – that no one in the Admin Building gives a hoot what faculty say? Or, are the faculty so busy they don’t have time to vote?

UA Defender claims that some of the faculty may not have received the e-mail about voting. While that may have been true at the beginning of the week, I think that’s a stretch to say multitudes didn’t hear about it by, say Wednesday of last week. So I think something else might be going on, and that something else is what needs to be examined, both by the faculty and the administration. (And, an interesting aside: Faculty in the College of Humanities and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences voted in the highest numbers, followed by those in Eller and the College of Law. Hmmm.)

Shelton came out with a faculty e-mail shortly after the poll was released that claims he is now listening and wants to meet with faculty in each college. (He was busy yesterday, because less than an hour after his faculty poll response, UA press delivered the news that Shelton doesn’t consider chalking on campus criminal damage but would require offenders to be sent to the Dean of Students office.)

Some are looking with skepticism on Shelton’s make-nice memo and if you want to know why, check out Sally Gradstudent’s nice link-list of former statements about engaging the community. It certainly doesn’t engender trust. I hope, for the good of the university that Shelton really will listen to what people have to say, and I hope faculty will actually show up to say it. As the poll showed, this isn’t about differential cuts – it is about the manner in which those are being handled and the person handling them is Hay. It’s time for Shelton to face the music on that one and teach his provost to play nice so everyone can get along. Otherwise, as Arizona Board of Regents President Ernest Calderon said last week, some serious choices might have to be made.

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